“Understanding Human Trafficking” Event Gives Attendees Insight into Victims’ Struggles to Break Free

The Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission partnered with Her Song, Tim Tebow Foundation, on January 31 for an in-person and virtual education event featuring testimony from a human trafficking survivor.

“This young lady, who came to Her Song, endured over a decade of exploitation before she was identified, and, even then, she was criminalized and sent to prison as a direct result of her trafficking,” said Janice Johnson, National Legal Advocate for Her Song. “Her Song also shows the restoration, healing and success that can happen when we offer opportunities of a new start. That woman is me.”

Johnson bravely shared a real-life human trafficking case study about herself. Five years after leaving that life, she is passionate about helping other women.

“I want others to have the same opportunities and support to live a life past their exploitation,” said Johnson, as she choked back tears. “To know that there is help for them to heal from their human trafficking.”

Johnson’s story highlights the dire need for the criminal justice system to be able to recognize and end human trafficking.  

“Human trafficking is a complex problem,” Johnson said. “It does not have one answer, one solution. Something this complex takes a village to put a dent into it.”

“Some 90% of human trafficking victims emerge from a trafficking situation with a criminal record,” said Brent Woody, Executive Director and Lead Attorney for the Justice Restoration Center. “The implications of a criminal record are housing, employment, education and life-sustainability. That and trauma are two of the most significant barriers to recovery for human trafficking victims.”

Johnson said prior to the expungement of her criminal charges, she was required to put that information on job applications or explain the charges to employers. It put her in constant fear that an untrustworthy employer would try to take advantage of the fact that she had a prostitution charge.

“One of the things I love to tell myself and other survivors is you tell your story when you want to. It shouldn’t be because you have to,” Johnson said. “Having to explain something like that because of the amount of charges — I have 26 charges that come up on a criminal background check — that put me in a very dangerous situation. Luckily, Her Song had a lot of partners in the community that were willing to give me an opportunity.”

Record expungement under the human trafficking victim expungement law is an important step in helping victims achieve success once they escape the grips of human trafficking. However, more laws are needed.

Residential programs are another necessity. National Residential Director Kelly Posze announced Her Song is expanding residential services in Chattanooga over next three years. “The expansion includes 28 residential program beds and the creation of an online house in the next six months,” Posze said.

The Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission assisted with event coordination, as Her Song expands its work from Florida into Tennessee. The Commission's mission is to provide collaborative leadership to create solutions and resources to address and eliminate barriers to access to justice.